Do We Really Do This?

A chair and a whip in front of an innocent lion who was born in captivity and has never known anything else?? One time that animal was a sweet, innocent cub with eyes barely open looking for mommy. Now she’s being abused on a daily basis and has no choice in the matter and no one is speaking out for her.

A social animal like a chimp in a cage alone only let out when he is required to perform? This is a chimp who is suffering every day of his life. He desperately needs other chimps to be with and without them his life is gut retching. I won’t even get into chimps in labs because I couldn’t finish this.

THANK GOD BARNUM AND BAILY CIRCUS IS GONE FOREVER!!!   F#@*& them!!  They were animal abusers. Cirque De Solei is the replacement!  No animals!

Animals love their babies. They kiss them. I saw a mother chimp kiss her baby the other day.  Here’s a baboon mommy kissing her baby.

3722F19900000578-3735554-A_mother_and_baby_Fran_ois_Langur_have_been_captured_sharing_a_h-a-29_1470967291279

We as the human race are acting like idiots if we don’t take this more seriously. Elephants are being poached at a rate that will make them extinct in 20 years. And it’s for their tusks which are nothing more than our own teeth!! Somehow, somewhere, some human decided these tusk/teeth were worth something. They are worth nothing more than the 25 cents you get from the tooth fairy when your tooth falls out!   Please, DO NOT buy ivory. You would be killing elephants.

Great apes have a different challenge and of course it is human related. The Great Apes are the gorilla, the orangutan, the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the human being. Yes, we are one of the great apes. Except for us, every great ape is HIGHLY endangered because of US! Their territory is being encroached upon for a mineral called Coltan which is used in all our devices; our cell phones, tablets, cordless phones, computers, etc. PLEASE recycle your electronics. If you don’t know how, figure it out!! In Texas, Staples will do it for you, check it out in your own state. Coltan can be taken out of recycled electronics and used again. HUGE for the great apes!

We are working hard to be sure the captive population of endangered animals is bio-diverse which means if and when these animals go extinct in the wild, at least our grandkids can see them in captivity. Bio-Diverse means we will not be mating sisters and brothers, etc.  If things continue the way they are, in 20 to 30 years  there will be no such thing as “wild animals”.  How horrible is that? Please figure out a way you can help. Recycling your electronics is a tiny start but what else can you do?

-Minimize your use of plastic in any way, plastic ends up in waterways and in the ocean and animals eat it.  Little tiny sea turtles will eat anything and so many of them die from eating plastic.

-If you can afford it, buy “sustainable” products like toilet paper and paper towels.  There is a sustaianble logo on the products.

-Recycle everything that you can.

– Try hard not to use Styrofoam in any way.  Its the absolute worst thing for the environment and wildlife.


Kona Died

“This was the hardest one,” an ape keeper named Tara at the Dallas zoo told me today, “the hardest one ever.”

Anyone who works in any capacity with the apes had sunglasses on today and were carrying much needed tissue.

Last night as I sat at dinner with my husband I kept hearing my phone tones for email and text.  I don’t work (I volunteer) so I don’t get as much activity on my phone as most people and the rate at which these sounds were coming in alarmed me a little.  “Excuse me please, let me check that,” I said to my husband.

I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I volunteer at the Dallas zoo two days a week speaking about behaviors and personalities of the apes.  I have come to know each ape intimately and some know and recognize me.  I love them deeply.

Andrea, it’s Julie at the zoo.  I know this is going to hit you hard and I’m so sorry.  I sent you several emails and I think Tracy did, too.  We lost Kona today, I read on text.  I burst into tears.  My husband was frantically asking what happened of course and I told him we lost Kona.

“Oh, the one who got his toe bit off by Juba?” my husband asked anxiously.

“NO!” I said, “those are the gorillas, Kona was the 7 year old Chimp!” I said as I sobbed.  I cried myself to sleep.

Driving to the zoo today was horrible.  I was so scared to see the keepers but even more scared to see the Chimpanzee troupe.  Cindy did a good job faking it at the Chimp Keeper Talk and then I saw Annie.  We embraced and I started to cry and she hugged me even harder.  Sweet thing, she’s only 28.

I am good friends with Kona’s main keeper whose name is Will.  Will is an emergency medical technician and is in Vietnam right now on a doctors without borders type mission with his father who is a surgeon.  I was so shaken up that I texted Will and just said OMFG and he responded and was an absolute wreck. Annie is his girlfriend and he asked me to take care of her until he could get back.  I told Will she’s a lot stronger than either of us, which is true.  Annie is not unemotional, she just controls it well.  When I told Annie Will texted me to take care of her she chuckled with tears in her eyes.

Later in the day I saw many other ape keepers and it was emotional.  Kona was one of a kind.  He was a rebel, a clown, a strategizer, a risk taker and his two and a half year old little brother Mshindi loved him to pieces.  In fact, at the zoo when an ape dies, they let the other apes in the troupe see the deceased body so they can process what has happened.  Little Mshindi was slapping Kona’s dead body trying to wake him up.  Gut wrenching.

No one knows exactly what killed Kona.  He had been a little lethargic and not eating well for a week.  When they brought him in and put him under anesthesia to try and figure out what was wrong, he just died.  Blood work and autopsy in progress but who cares, it won’t bring him back.

This morning when the keepers got to work there was poop spread on every wall, floor and ceiling of the indoor Chimp bedrooms.  Last night, the chimps protested.  It was the only way they knew how.  Today the Chimps were despondent and little Mshindi was trying to play the games on the ropes and climbing structures all by himself that he used to play 0n with Kona.  Gut wrenching.

konaresized

Sweet Kona

image-11-5-16-at-4-27-pm

Mshindi is going to miss Kona

So am I


Prostate Lecture, fun huh?

As I have gotten older I have become an amateur expert on illnesses I have had or people I love have had. I could tell you all about Atrial Septal Defect, a heart disorder that is congenital that is usually found days after a baby is born but mine wasn’t found until I was 36 years old. It is unfathomable to me that all those doctors over all those years missed it. The one who found it was pissed off at all the others. She was a feisty bitch and I didn’t like her, but bless her heart, (no pun intended) she found it. I had it fixed. Not easy. Open heart surgery.  A lot of pain. A lot of drugs. A lot of scars. I could have dropped dead and I didn’t. I’m grateful to the feisty bitch.

Now, someone I care a lot about is having a prostate cancer recurrence. This man asked his primary care physician if he could get him in for a physical at the end of 2013. Of course, every one in the world is trying to get in for their physical while their deductible is satisfied at the end of the year. This man’s physician said no, he couldn’t squeeze him in. My friend said, “Can we at least do blood work?” This request saved my friends life.

You guys, prostate cancer is the number one cancer for men and one in six men will be diagnosed with it sometime in their lifetime. There are no symptoms in the first 2 to 3 stages of the disease and by the 4rth stage you might be toast. Yes, I’m trying to scare you. Like any other cancer the trick is to catch it early. Stage one prostate cancer is relatively easy to treat and has a huge success rate. Stage two, a little trickier but still very treatable with a radical prostatectomy. (Surgical removal of the prostate or other options depending on your situation). Stage three means cancer cells have gone beyond the initial site, maybe into lymph nodes, etc. and that gets into really serious cancer treatment which has serious quality of life implications.  Stage 4 I don’t even want to talk about.

The reason I’m writing this, is that there is this new idea circulating around that maybe a yearly PSA test is not that important. There are organizations that say it leads to false positives and unnecessary biopsies.   If my friend did not get a PSA test in 2013 it could easily be over by now, if you know what I mean. A PSA test will tell you if your PSA is elevated and if you might have cancer! It’s an easy and cheap test! A little blood test!

Men, I warn you, do not assume when your doctor says your blood work was fine that she /he tested you for PSA. You must know what your PSA is, guys!  I have men friends who say their doctors do the blood work but don’t include PSA! WHAT? It’s the number one cancer of men! Why would that not be obviously in every blood work up! I just don’t get it.  But it’s true.  Take control of your health by being positive your doctor is checking PSA.   Have I made my point? One in six! Get your PSA test no matter what anyone says!

Whew, I’m exhausted…..


They Are Wild!

IMG_2285
Shauna in His Pool
A keeper at a Florida zoo who was the senior “big cat” keeper and was known as the “cat whisperer” was mauled and killed by her favorite tiger a day or two ago.  This happens way too often.  She was in the friggin’ cage with him.  Wrong!
There are zoos that are “protected contact” and then zoos that are not.  Protected contact means that you only interact with a potentially “killer” animal through some kind of protection.  For example, at the Dallas zoo, the keepers are very intimate with the gorillas and chimps but always through heavy mesh fencing.  Because of that, there is no way the keepers could be harmed by the animals.  The Dallas zoo also adheres to protected contact with lions, tigers, mountain lions, etc.  We are a protected contact zoo.
Gorillas are not “killers,” they are very gentle by nature, but because of their size and strength they could crush a keeper with an affectionate hug.  Chimps on the other hand can be very aggressive and as cute as they can be, especially the babies, they are very dangerous. I am a huge believer in protected contact because our keepers at the Dallas zoo don’t get killed and never have and keepers at non-protected contact zoos have.
I get it.  I know what happens.  Keepers in non-protective become somehow immune to the fact that the animals they love and the animals they believe love them are wild animals.  They begin to believe that their bond with the animals is something very special and different.  They think the animals love them.  And they might be right!  But they are WILD!  They turn on a dime.
I think keepers who love their  animals might lose sight of this.  These animals hear or see something out of the corner of their eye and they attack whatever is in front of them.  I’ve seen chimps do this.  Thats what happened in the recent killing of the keeper.  Everything was fine until she turned her head and the tiger heard or saw something that was upsetting and attacked the first thing she saw, and someone she probably otherwise loved.
All I can say is “Siegfried and Roy.”

Let Them Die

Seventeen elephants who would have starved to death in Swaziland, Africa have been rescued and sent to three zoos. Five for Dallas, six for Sedgwick County zoo in Kansas and six for Omaha zoo.  Unless it’s an extreme circumstance, which this was, it’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them into captivity.  This has taken the three zoos 2 years to pull off and they’ve had fights and lawsuits with animal activist organizations because they wanted it to stay “natural”. (Translation: let them die…..no kidding.)  All zoo employees and volunteers have been prepped and coached for the likely event of demonstrations or even riots.  So far nothing, which is surprising.  Our elephants arrived Friday night after a long and arduous journey then ate heartily and drank lots of water (horrible drought in Africa) and slept well.  They are in quarantine for at least a month but the five are together.  Our existing elephants were stomping their feet and trumpeting because they could smell or sense new elephants.  The “introductions” of our four elephants with the five new ones will take months with lots of careful observation and consideration from their keepers.  Animal personalities and hierarchies matter a LOT, and you can’t force anything.

At the volunteer meeting on Saturday, our CEO, who’d had five hours of sleep in the previous five days because of some “big grey things” spoke and presented a slide show.  He said he was very nervous about the transport of these gigantic animals and wanted to stay in touch with staff accompanying the elephants on their journey.  He was tripping over his words and getting choked up.  He was so relieved that the elephants had successfully been transported and arrived safely at our zoo.  Our CEO said one male ate all his food, drank all his water and was asleep before some of the females even had the nerve to leave the crates they had been in on the plane.

The photographs he shared on a slide show were unnerving.  We have an elephant named Jenny and she is 10,000 pounds.  That’s five tons, am I right?  Imagine 17 elephants being loaded into (very comfortable and elephant friendly) crates, lifted with a crane and somehow moved into a 747 aircraft.  Imagine being the pilot of that plane taking off with that kind of weight.  Let’s be conservative here in this calculation.  Let’s say each elephant weighed a mere 6,000 pounds….that would be 102,000 pounds!  I can’t, for the life of me figure out how a plane takes off at all, much less with that kind of weight!

I’m thrilled to say the Dallas zoo now has 9 gorgeous African Elephants!

image035

Our Four Girls Who Will Soon be Nine!


Love and Pain

I’ve been having trouble with my left shoulder and the pain got pretty bad. I’ve recently switched from tennis to pickle ball and in tennis I had a two handed back hand so naturally I continued to use that technique in pickle ball. The problem is the motion of a two handed back hand in pickle ball is much “tighter” than it is in tennis and it resulted in injury. I knew that is where the problem originated and I quickly learned a mean single-handed back hand but my shoulder still hurt and it has been hurting for a long time.

Finally, I went to a lovely Korean muscular therapist who explained that shoulders are very complex and injuries take a long time to heal. Her work was helping and she told me I should also consider doing acupuncture in addition to the work we were doing. So, I found a lovely Chinese woman with a PhD in Chinese medicine and acupuncture and saw her for the first time last week. It seemed to help a little so I went back today. Today seemed to help a LOT which is nice.

After my treatment as we were sitting at Julie’s desk scheduling my next appointment, I noticed a picture of her with a gorgeous golden retriever.

“Oh my god, your dog is beautiful!” I said.

“She was beautiful,” Julie replied, “and I adored her. I never had children so she was like my child.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She got cancer, we tried everything, but we finally had to put her down,” she said as her eyes got red and watery.

“That is horrible,” I said, “I never had kids either and as an adult I have had to live through the death of three beloved dogs. Two of them golden’s.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Julie said.

She went on to describe the day she knew it was time to put Scarlett down. She talked about the vet coming to her house so Scarlett didn’t think they were going in the car to go to the park. She described how she got Scarlett up on her lap in a big bear hug and then allowed the vet to give her the shot. She described what it felt like to have Scarlett die in her arms. She said it was very peaceful but she and I were both sobbing. She grabbed a box of Kleenex….

“I’m so sorry to make you cry,” she said softly.

“It’s okay,” I said, “crying is okay.”

They say one of the most gut wrenching things in life is when a parent has to bury a child. The problem with being a dog parent is that you have to bury most of them.


Fig Newtons and Dead Squirrels

“Oh, here’s someone you can ask, honey,” a woman at the zoo said to her kid. He looked away shyly.

“She’s a volunteer here, honey, she is here to answer questions”. The boy flushed. I stopped talking about the gorillas and smiled gently at him. He still wouldn’t say a word.

“Do the chimpanzee’s have a toy squirrel that they play with and throw around?” the woman finally asked me.

“No,” I said, “at the Dallas zoo you will never find anything unnatural in the habitats, no toys, blankets or anything like that. The apes play with hay, sticks, rocks and stuff like that.”

“Well then, the one they are flinging around up there must be real,” she looked a little queasy.

“What?” I almost shrieked. “They are throwing around a squirrel? Is it alive?”

“I don’t think it is anymore,” she replied.

“What time is it?” I said as I turned in the direction of the chimpanzees, “there is a keeper talk up there at 11:30 and zoo guest probably won’t want to witness that!”

“It’s 11:30,” she said.  I started to run as fast as I could which isn’t very fast because I have weird hips and my foot hurts today.

I got to the chimps just as one of my favorite great ape keepers Will was starting his presentation in front of the glass viewing windows.  “I’m sorry to interrupt, Will, can I have a quick word with you?” I asked.  He stepped over and I whispered in his ear.  He started laughing which was a relief to me because I didn’t know if there was a concern of health issues spreading from a dead squirrel to a chimp.

“Well,” Will announced to the crowd with a grin, “this could be an interesting keeper talk as I have just been informed the chimps may be playing with a dead squirrel!”

Will then went on to point to the different chimps sharing their names and ages.  We have a baby chimp named Mashindi whom the zoo guests love to see and Will was a little frustrated that he couldn’t spot him.  Suddenly I saw him.  “There’s Mashindi, Will!” I said with a smile.

Will and I then looked at each other horrified.  Mashindi was rushing right toward the glass and the crowd with a dead squirrel dangling from his mouth who was about half the size he is.  There were gasps from the zoo guests.  As he arrived in front of the glass, his 6 year old brother Kona grabbed the squirrel out of his mouth and flung it about 10 feet straight up into the air.  It landed with a splat.

During the keeper talk there are large metal doors that open to a very heavy mesh fencing and the keepers interact with the animals through that mesh.  Will asked another keeper to go get some medical gloves and some fig newtons.  Chimps are highly intelligent, highly food motivated and they love fig newtons and rarely get them.  They also understand the concept of “trading”.  Kona is probably one of the most intelligent chimps in there.

Will put on the gloves and then showed Kona the fig newton which he immediately reached for.  Will pulled it back and said, “Trade for the toy.” Kona clapped his hands.  “No, Kona, trade for the toy.”  Kona opened his mouth so Will could see his teeth.  Kona was trying any behavior that might be rewarded.  “Trade for the toy, Kona.”  And suddenly he understood.  He went over and got the dead squirrel and then he and Will together negotiated how to squish the squirrel through the mesh.  I couldn’t watch that part.  Then the crowd cheered so I opened my eyes just in time to see Kona delight in his treat.


Death Too Soon

Oh my god.  In a tragic case of twisted timing, hours after I wrote the blog post telling “Nana” to go see our two beautiful baby giraffes, our youngest, Kipenzi had a freak accident and died.  It made national news so you may have seen it and thought, I hope that’s not the same baby that accidental texan was blogging about!  Kipenzi was 15 weeks old and the sweetest, most beautiful, graceful, charming baby giraffe I’ve ever met.  Her father is very gregarious and she was  typically rambunctious as baby giraffes tend to be.  Sweet girl didn’t quite know how to use her legs and neck well enough to keep up with her energy and as the giraffe herd was being shifted from the habitat yard to the barn last evening, she playfully made a sharp turn, hit her head and died instantly of a broken neck.

Because I am an insider, I recieved the news via email last night at 9:00 pm.  I don’t know if I screamed or what, but my husband was suddenly standing behind me holding my shoulders.  I had spent half hour at the end of my shift yesterday watching sweet Kipenzi and her mother peacefully roam in their habitat together and then next thing I knew the baby girl was dead.

Zoo staff and volunteers, especially the giraffe keepers, are utterly devastated.  Our CEO recognized the depth of the pain and hired grief counselors free of charge to anyone who works at the zoo, paid or unpaid.  Classy guy.

I would post pictures of Kipenzi, but I can’t look at them yet.  I’ve only just finished crying and it’s been less than 24 hours since I got the bad news.

I had this strange feeling this morning.  I saw Nana at the giraffe exhibit from a distance when I was there after my shift.  She was asking the volunteer there question after question and I could tell by her body language that her questions were about Kipenzi.  I wonder if they went together yesterday.


Death and New Life

“Look, honey! The Gorilla has gray hair so he must be old like Nana!” a very old woman said to a kid I assumed was her grandchild while pointing to her hair. The woman looked like she was a hundred years old.

As an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla, I stand in front of their habitat at the Dallas zoo and speak to zoo guests about them. “He’s actually not old,” I said, “he’s 13 which is about 18, 19 in human years. And, he’s not gray he’s silver. He’s a silverback gorilla which means a mature adult. But he’s a young adult.” Nana wasn’t looking at me or hearing me and just kept saying to her grandchild how old this gorilla must be.

“Nana!” a woman of about 38 asserted. “She’s saying he’s not old, you’re not listening to her.” I realized that this was her grandchild and the young one was her great grandchild. “Nana, listen to what the woman is saying!”

Nana looked at me and narrowed her eyes as if trying to focus. “He’s not old?” she asked suspiciously.

“No,” I said, “just silver from maturity.” Nana went on to ask me several questions and as other people gathered around to see the magnificent silverback, Juba, I noticed her flowy shirt had been accidently tucked into her underwear which were showing well above the top of her pants on one side. I was the one to run to the front of the class in junior high to tell the teacher his fly was down before he got eaten alive by a bunch of hormone raging maniacs and I wasn’t going to let Nana continue walking around the zoo like this. I simply reached forward, grabbed her shirt and tugged upward. She realized what was happening, never took her eyes off Juba while she reached back and completed the task. We never said a word about it.

“Where are the chimpanzees?” she finally asked excitedly. I told her how to get to them and told her to look for our one year old baby chimp.

“A baby? Yipeeee!” she exclaimed as she staggered away. “I gotta go find my kids!” Oddly, the granddaughter with the child in the stroller had moved on and left this incredibly old lady by herself. It didn’t seem to bother Nana but it bothered me. This woman wasn’t moving well.

An hour or two later I was leaving the gorilla research station when suddenly Nana appeared. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to drive you crazy with so many questions today,” she said. “But, where are the elephants?” She was alone again.

“I will walk you to the elephants, Nana,” she seemed unstable and it was hot. “Now, up ahead do you want to take the stairs or the stroller ramp?” I asked.

“I know, I look drunk!” she exclaimed with a laugh, “I’ll take the stroller ramp.”

“You don’t look drunk, you just look kinda old,” I said.

“Kinda old,” she giggled under her breath. “I’m on morphine,” she said, “I have cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Wow, morphine, are you dying?”

“Yes,” she said as she hung onto the railing teetering as she walked, “but it’s fine. I’m 85, I smoked from the time I was 16 until I was 66! I should have gotten cancer when I was 21!” she exclaimed as she gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Oh, I see the kids! I’ll just catch up with them. Thank you for your help.”

“Nana,” I said, “just past the elephants are the giraffes and there are two babies in there.”

Two babies! Yipeeeee!” she said as she waved her arms.

____________________________________________________________